Concrete Crunch: NASCAR Cup Series prepares for Nashville Superspeedway

(Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

After a weekend of rest, the competitors in the NASCAR Cup Series prepare for one of the schedule’s most unique tracks – Nashville Superspeedway – with the Ally 400 on June 26 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90). Cup competitors are challenged with grappling the D-shaped, concrete oval that stretches 1.33-miles on Sunday – the longest concrete surface track on the 2022 schedule.

Construction of Nashville Superspeedway was completed in 2001 and the facility was originally owned by Dover Motorsports. The first NASCAR national series race held at Nashville Superspeedway was a NASCAR Xfinity Series event on April 14, 2001. The first Xfinity race at Nashville was won by Greg Biffle driving a Ford for RFK Racing. The first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Nashville Superspeedway was on August 10, 2001 and was won by Scott Riggs driving a Dodge for truck owner Jim Smith. Nashville Superspeedway was purchased in 2021, and is currently owned and operated by Speedway Motorsports Inc.

Last season, Nashville Superspeedway hosted the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at the track, and the event was won by Hendrick Motorsport’s driver and 2021 series champion Kyle Larson. The California native took the win with a Margin of Victory of 4.335 seconds over Ross Chastain in second. The race produced 14 lead changes among seven different drivers. Larson led the most laps of the race, spending 264 of the scheduled 300 laps out front (88%). 

This weekend at Nashville, the NASCAR Cup Series on-track activity begins with practice from 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday, June 24 on the USA Network. Then Busch Light Pole Qualifying is on Saturday, June 25 at 1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson is back to defend Nashville victory

Nashville, Tennessee must hold a special place in Hendrick Motorsports’ driver Kyle Larson’s heart. Not only did he win the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at Nashville Speedway last season, but he also celebrated winning the 2021 series championship in downtown Nashville as well. Now the 29-year-old returns to the Tennessee track to defend his last season win and go back-to-back at Nashville Superspeedway.

This season, Larson has made 16 starts posting one win (Auto Club), two poles, six top fives and eight top 10s.

Defending a race win at a track is something Larson has only done once among his 17 series career victories, when he won three straight at Michigan International Speedway from 2016-2017. 

This season hasn’t been quite as bombastic as last year for Larson. Through 16 races in 2021, he had already banked three wins (Las Vegas, Charlotte and Sonoma) and Nashville was his fourth of ultimately a 10-win title winning season. Though he only has one win this season, Larson is most likely the favorite coming into this weekend at Nashville. He dominated the race leading 88% of the laps run and won the event from the fifth starting position by a whopping 4.335-seconds Margin of Victory. 

Playoff Bubble: Stewart-Haas Racing teammates teeter the cutoff line

With Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suárez becoming the 12th different driver to win this season and earn a spot in the Playoffs, that leaves just four positions open in the 16-driver NASCAR Cup Series postseason field with 10 races left to go in the regular season. 

The four drivers currently in the Playoff hot seats that all drivers outside the postseason cutoff are coveting are Ryan Blaney (+95 points from the Playoff cutoff), Martin Truex Jr. (+65), Christopher Bell (+28) and Aric Almirola (+7). 

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola is currently in the most precarious position of the four drivers inside the Playoff cutoff, because he is in the 16th and final transfer position on points. But if a driver below him in the standings wins over the next 10 races, he could find himself bounced out of the Playoffs. Almirola currently has a seven-point advantage on his SHR teammate Kevin Harvick who is in 17th – the first spot outside the Playoffs cutoff. Both SHR teammates, Almirola and Harvick, made the Playoffs last season and both finished in the top five at Nashville.

Not far behind the SHR teammates are the Richard Childress Racing teammates – Tyler Reddick (-42 points from the cutoff) and Austin Dillon (-47 points) – and both are within striking distance of Almirola in the final transfer spot. 

Of the drivers looking for their first NASCAR Cup Series win of the season, three have won previously at Nashville Superspeedway in either the NASCAR Xfinity Series or the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – Kevin Harvick (2006, 2010 NXS), Austin Dillon (2011 NCWTS) and Brad Keselowski (2008, 2010 NXS).

Playoff Outlook: Drivers Without Wins

RankDriverPointsRace WinsStage WinsPlayoff PtsPts From Cutoff
13Ryan Blaney51104495
14Martin Truex Jr.48103365
15Christopher Bell44400028
16Aric Almirola4230007
17Kevin Harvick416000-7
18Tyler Reddick381022-42
19Austin Dillon376000-47
20Erik Jones368000-55
21Michael McDowell330000-93
22Chris Buescher318000-105
23Justin Haley310000-113
24Ricky Stenhouse Jr.288000-135
25Bubba Wallace284011-139
26Ty Dillon270000-153
27Cole Custer262000-161
28Harrison Burton #241000-182
29Todd Gilliland #239000-184
30Brad Keselowski22700-10-196

Three lengthy Playoff streaks in jeopardy

Three former NASCAR Cup Series champions, Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Kevin Harvick (2014) and Brad Keselowski (2012), have yet to secure their spots in this season’s Playoffs, putting their lengthy postseason streaks in jeopardy as the series heads to Nashville Superspeedway for the Ally 400 (Sunday, June 26 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the 17th race of the 26-race regular season.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion, is currently in the best position in the standings of the three former champions, sitting in 14th in the Playoff outlook following Sonoma – 65 points up on the postseason cutoff. Truex is currently riding a streak of seven consecutive seasons of making the Playoffs and in total has earned a spot in the postseason in the NASCAR Cup Series nine times in his career (2021 ’20, ’19, ’18, ’17, ’16, ’15, ’12, ’07). 

Truex is also on a winless streak that has reached 24 races (Richmond, 2021), and will look to win his way into the Playoffs this weekend at Nashville. In last season’s Nashville Superspeedway race, Truex struggled but is hoping for this time around in the Next Gen car to be different. Last season, Truex started 35th and finished 22nd.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick has had an impressive career, but the veteran hasn’t visited Victory Lane in the series since Bristol in 2020 (59 races ago), and now finds himself 17th in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff outlook, seven points back from his teammate Aric Almirola in the 16th and final Playoff transfer position on points. Harvick is also riding a streak of 12 consecutive seasons (most among active drivers) where he has earned a spot in the Playoffs and is currently tied with Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch for the career-most postseason appearances at 15 each (Harvick’s career Playoff seasons: 2021, ’20, ’19, ’18, ’17, ’16, ’15, ’14, ’13, ’12, ’11, ’10, ’08, ’07, ’06). 

Harvick ran well at Nashville last season and might be worth keeping an eye on this weekend. In last season’s inaugural Cup race at Nashville, Harvick started 12th and raced his way up to a fifth-place finish. 

Following a penalty at the beginning of the season, RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski has been buried in the point standings and now faces the reality that his streak of eight consecutive seasons of earning a spot in the Playoffs is in jeopardy. In total, Keselowski has earned 10 career appearances in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs (2021 ’20, ’19, ’18, ’17, ’16, ’15, ’14, ’12, ’11).

Keselowski is currently 30th in the driver standings (the last postseason eligible position), 196 points back from Aric Almirola in the final Playoff transfer position. Keselowski is mathematically eligible to point his way into the Playoffs still, but it will be nearly impossible. The easiest way into the postseason for Keselowski would be to win, but he too is on a winless streak that has reached 42 races (Talladega, 2021).   

In last season’s Nashville Cup race, Keselowski started 15th and finished 23rd.

Jimmie Johnson currently holds the record in the NASCAR Cup Series for the longest streak of consecutive Playoff appearances at 15 straight seasons from 2004-2018.

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